One of Richard Wagners' most interesting decisions as creator of Der Ring des Nibelungen was to leave unclear the fate of Alberich, the villainous dwarf who has set in motion the inexorable machinery of destiny, leading in the end to the apocalyptic cataclysm which concludes Götterdämmerung. As is so often the case in Wagner's operas, Alberich is more than a cardboard villain in the Italian mode as memorable as he is, a Scarpia, for example, is thoroughly and irredeemably maleficent. Alberich, on the other hand like Frederick of Telramund, or Klingsor, or even Fafner is not entirely unsympathetic; however cruel his actions, they are often the result of mistreatment at the hands of others. It is the Rhinemaidens' heartless mockery of him that leads Alberich to the theft of the gold, and it is Wotan's treachery that goads Alberich into placing his mighty curse on the ring he has fashioned from the gold. (Indeed, Wotan is something of a mirror image to Alberich, an essentially sympathetic character whose actions are often devious, even ignoble.) Thus, it is possible with Alberich and with many other Wagnerian villains to recognize the inherent evil of his nature and deeds and yet still discern some measure of humanity in him and, in the process, to feel compassion for his plight.
As Alberich's whereabouts are unknown at the end of the Ring, it occurred to me that it might be engaging to return him to the stage, so to speak, so that he might wreak further havoc in what is quite literally the godless world in which Wagner has left us in the final pages of Götterdämmerung. The result was Der gerettete Alberich, whose title might best be translated as "Alberich Saved," itself a reference to Georg Kaiser's expressionist play Der gerettete Alkibiades. Rather than a concerto, Der gerettete Alberich is more of a fantasy for solo percussionist and orchestra on themes of Wagner, with the soloist taking on the "role" of Alberich. Much of the musical material in the work is derived from a number of motives associated with Alberich in the Ring, among them the motives for the curse, the power of gold, the renunciation of love, annihilation, the Nibelungs, and, of course, the Ring itself. Only Wagner's Redemption through Love motive stands beyond the ken of the other, Alberich-related motives I have used, through I have rather maliciously distorted it to suit the purposes of my "hero."
Notwithstanding the discernible tripartite structure of Der gerettete Alberich, this work is somewhat looser architecturally than other scores of mine to which I have appended the title "concerto" -- hence my decision to refer to it as a "fantasy." Having said all of the above, it would now be absurd of me to aver that this work is not programmatic; however, it is fair to say that it is not a narrative piece in the manner of, say, Strauss' Don Quixote. Beyond a brief passage in which Alberich serves a stint as a rock drummer (probably inspired, at least in part, by the wonderfully over-the-edge Wagner Reincarnated scenes in Ken Russell's film Lisztomania), I was not attempting to paint specific pictures in this score. However, the listener is free to provide whatever images he or she likes to the sonic goings-on.
Der gerettete Alberich was composed for percussionist Evelyn Glennie (to whom it is dedicated) and a commissioning consortium of the London Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The soloist's battery consists of four wood blocks, four log drums, four tom-toms, two bongos, two timbales, a snare drum, a steel drum, a marimba, two guiros, a pdeal-operated bass drum, and a drum set. The orchestration calls for piccolo, two flutes, three oboes, three clarinets, three bassoons, six horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, harp, timpani, percussion (three players), and strings. The percussion section makes use of chimes, antique cymbals, xylophone, castanets, tam-tam, bass drum, suspended cymbal, four tom-toms, anvil, and thunder sheet.
Completed on June 7, 1997, Der gerettete Alberich lasts approximately twenty-two minutes in performance.
© 1997 by Christopher Rouse
These program notes can be reproduced free of charge with the following credit:
Reprinted by kind permission of Christopher Rouse
"Christopher Rouse's prestige can be gauged by the consortium that commissioned his Der gerettete Alberich ("Alberich Saved"): the top orchestras of Cleveland, Philadelphia, London and Baltimore. He's got a Composer's Gold Card.
"He deserves it. When the work was performed [last night] in Meyerhoff Hall by David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony, it received a standing ovation...this is genuinely good music that is fun to listen to...
"Rouse is a composer with a dark imagination. But he's also got a wonderful sense of wit that can bring a smile to one's face. The composer begins the Der gerettete Alberich with the concluding and gloriously uplifting measures of Wagner's Götterdämmerung before letting the percussionist, who impersonates Alberich, loose to do her mischief.
"It is mischief that involves percussion equipment of every variety and that loosely corresponds to the fast-slow-fast structure of the traditional concerto. Rouse's use of sonorities is intriguing and his solutions to the problems of balance in such a work is masterly. The second movement is Rouse at close to his lyrical best and the final movement, which begins with an over-the-top rock drumming sequence, seemed a model of how one can put the classical symphonic orchestra to use in a popular style."
"...Alberich certainly makes a tumultuous return in Christopher Rouse's Der gerettete Alberich... Rouse's score is something of a Wagnerian fractured fairy tale, full of references to the "Ring" but twisted in such a way that the narrative emerges as a fresh burst of creative imagination.
"As filtered through the brain of a daring American composer, the final bars of Wagner's "Götterdämmerung" give way to gourds, the instruments with which Alberich makes his initial nefarious appearance. The adventure finds our dwarf scampering on kinetic, noisy, yet often poignant terrain. The myriad percussion instruments placed in front of the orchestra provide Alberich with a spectrum of emotional colors and opportunities to embark on mischief...
"Alberich is suspenseful and convulsive in the opening movement, yearning for a sympathetic ear in the second movement and a total renegade by the time the last movement almost lifts the roof off the hall..."
"There is sheer sonic excitement, even a healthy din, throughout Rouse's brilliant melding of romantic and contemporary idioms... But what keeps the piece on its eventful forward track is the confident and unpredictable manner in which the composer alters textures, sets off barrages of rhythmic devices in the solo percussion and achieves remarkable clarity and motivic purpose in the orchestra. Many more hearings will be needed to absorb all of the references and details in Der gerettete Alberich, but the dwarf indeed has returned with his naughty and malicious character intact."
"When Richard Wagner left the Götter to vanish in the Dämmerung, the dwarf Alberich finally hopped onto the stage.
"[quote from CD booklet]," explains Christopher Rouse about his motivation for Der gerettete Alberich. Therefore this work is neither concerto nor instrumental drama; much more, Rouse forms a study in character and voice in sublime Klangfarben and fluid dialogues: from the closing chords of the opera follows the surprise and disillusionment about the only life-form in scraping ideas and raining-down drum figures.
"Before calming sound-scenes from discreet opera quotations, marimba motives dot Alberich's forehead with sweat, as he thinks about his way forward. Then his ego triumphs in an orgiastic and often dissonant heavy metal dwarf-dance with drumset, which the magnificent soloist Evelyn Glennie (to whom the work is dedicated) takes on with the same virtuosity as all other percussion instruments. Because Rouse considers the figure of Alberich irreverently, it becomes a modern symbol of grotesque power fantasies, and the Götterdämmerung becomes a nightmare.
"Complementing this is also the Violin Concerto, a critical diagnosis of the times in sounds that vibrate restively in the Barcarola and have a violent mimicry in the Toccata. Rapture creates an almost foreign effect in this environment; its rapturous polyphony, like a tonal hologram, provides for unsuspected listening experiences.
"Leif Segerstam has prepared sensuality in Rouse's style in the best possible way for the ears, and this recording therefore has reference status."